Phillip Leider, Founding Editor 'of Art Forum', Professor of Art History at the, University of California at Irvine and The Bezalel Academy in Jerusalem, 1992
Speech delivered at the Bar-Giora Observatory, April 27, 1992 during the launching of Orion's "Super-Cathedral" -
"... Among the very few people who helped Ezra Orion bring the idea for this evening's extraordinary event to the attention of the officials of the International Space Year, was the American engineer, Len Arnowitz. When he first contacted them, they responded with a press-kit containing some of the ideas they had already considered to commemorate the International Geophysical Year. Some of them were: |
1. "A worldwide student videoconference, organized by NASA", an event they described as "global".
2. "A special program at the National Science Teachers Association", but this was only "national".
3. "Environmental monitoring by elementary and secondary school students", but this was, alas, only "local"...
In response to these, Arnowitz sent Ezra Orion's proposal: a simultaneous release of vast parallel laser beams from dozens of stations, from the northern hemisphere, a "Super Cathedral" - 1 billion km. tall, soaring at the speed of,light, vertically to the plane of the Milky Way, and, theoretically at least, infinite in duration. The people at ISY must have been, well, stunned... They were encountering, as had several technical communities before them during the past few decades, the sudden intrusion into their domain of strange and foreign obligation: the obligation to recognize their sculptural potential -
They, not students at a global "videoconference"; they, not the National Science Teachers Association; They, not elementary and secondary school students
monitoring" the environment; they and they alone are the only ones who can realize this homage to the International Space Year 1992 -
And thus Orion and few dedicated friends in the technical community managed to secure the cooperation of the scientists, engineers and technicians, who alone could realize the astonishing work of art manifesting itself at this hour. It was,
indeed, an example of the new kind of studio- life that Smithson found so curious and infuriating. For Orion's work consisted entirely of first discovering what the technicians needed, to seed in their minds something of the vision which had been in his own mind long before he had ever heard of the International Space Year.
For, although the needs of the technical community and the needs of the artist meet in this work, they are, in truth, not following a single agenda: Orion has his own agenda to fulfill, and it is driven not by history of space exploration - but by the history of art...
What is truly remarkable is how consistent is this moment with the greatest aspirations of modern art from the earliest moments of its conception. It is as if this work a vision shared by Malevich with both Kandinsky and Mondrian has finally come into existence: the dematerialized work of art, at last -
Malevich, Kandinsky and Mondrian, the creators of abstract art, the art of our century, never met, never exchanged ideas. Yet, all three speculated on an ultimate work of art that would free the artist once and for all from his dependence on matter. All three believed (along with millions of others at the turn of the century, and more than a few from the scientific community), that between matter and spirit there was no qualitative breake, but rether more of quantitative continuum. They believed that spirit was simply a refined form of matter, so refined, in fact, that it could be perceived, at this stage of "evolution", only in the form of "auras" or "vibrations", and these only by spiritually gifted individuals. Deeply anti-materialistic, they believed that all of history, all of life, was leading to period when all matter would return to the universe of pure spirit from which it had, so to speak, condensed itself, eons and eons ago. They also believed that art could help people come to understand this process more clearly, could hasten the spiritual evolution of people by, to begin with, demonstrating that art did not depend on the creation or on the depiction of things -
Kazimir Malevich, that great visionary of art, foresaw as early as 1929, that moment when art would not be able to proceed without the co-operation of the technical community. "Technical means", he wrote then, "are penetrating into the purely painterly picture... the characteristics or functional qualities of the engineer begin to'become linked with the artist". He conceived of works - of which Orion's
"Super Cathedral" is certainly one - that transcended all the categories of painting, sculpture or even architecture: "Let tall needles and flying houses prepare to take off! Let wedge shapes cleave the bosom of space! ... "
The American artists, Robert Smithson, whose Earthworks Orion has long appreciated, wrote of how, in bringing such constructions into being, the corection of the technical community would consume enormous amounts of the artist's energy. "The time and effort given over to dealing with officials of various kinds, the securing of permits and licenses, the dealing with committees and budget- managers, technicians who frequently understood nothing about art whatsoever, but who also, he discovered, frenquently respected art and artists deeply. All this Smithson conceived as a new kind of studio-time. Studio-life, he realized, would consist less and less in the tedium of executing works already existing in the mind, and more and more in the equally tedious meetings and delays of meetings with entire classes of people, with whom artists had never before been so actively engaged.
Often enough, it all falls apart. But there are also moments in such artist-manager negotiations when at last the obstacles to the project are cleared and the technicians find themselves taking a surprisingly new kind of interest in the proposal, and especially in their part in it. In the letter from Charles Reigber and Rolf Koenig of DGFI/D-PA, Frankfurt, urging member stations to participate in tonight's luanch:
"...At the very beginning we were also somewhat sceptical about this Laser Sculpture.
But from day to day we are becoming more enthusiastic. So we would also like to see you participating..."
And, one by one, each Satellite Laser Ranger Station become curious, then interested, and then, finally, "enthusiastic". Yet, surely the exotic and unaccustomed nature of the proposal would have discouraged their participation, except for saving elements, also stated in the same dispatch, but this with a certainty and pride the authors had no wish to conceal:
"...This outstanding conception of art can be realized only by us scientists, engineers and technicians..." Thus Malevich called his nature work "non-objective", meaning an art that did not depict or depend upon objects. Kandinsky and Mondrian referred to their art as "spiritual", and Mondrian, chafing at the limitations of even the basic materials of painting, wrote in exasperation that "For the spiritual artist, color and brushwork sufficinetly represent matter". The ultimate work would be one hardly conceivable, in which spiritual states would be communicated by thoughts, vibrations of spiritual energy, without the use of materials at all...
Ezra Orion is not a theosophist, and does not come to the conception we honor here tonight through theosophical speculation. The meditation whose culmination we are present at tonight, began with the majestic earthworks in the Negev desert of 1978-79, and the artist's deepening appreciation of the relationship to be unearthed between sculpture and geology, especially, in Orion's case, to plate tectonics.
The Syrian-African rift has almost mystical connection to Orion's desert works of 1980S. With a kind of driven, relentless'logic, Orion's art led him to the Annapurna Sanctuary in the Himalaya Mountains, formed as they are, by the same tectonic forces that created the Syrian-African rift. What he had found he'd created in the central Himalaya was what he called a "luanching pad of consciousness" - to the intergalactic vastness -
It must have been there that Orion began to realize where what used to be called "sculpture" had to go. But how? With what? The answer is here tonight, in the altogether improbable union of the lnternational Space Year, and the aspirations of the noblest art of our century."
Philip Leider Robert Smithson coined the terms: 'Site-Specific - Site-Oriented' - The sites of this sculpture is planet Earth - the Solar-System - - - the Milky-Way - - - the Seen Universe - - - Ezra Orion